Real-Time as a Service? Check Out What is Working On

Can being "present in the now" be packaged and sold as a service? A number of companies believe that it can be and are aiming to offer a "real-time" layer of functionality to consumer websites and businesses interested in this growing trend online.
On one hand it's just a speed up the infrastructure play, but the impact of real time information delivery on a user's experience of a website can be profound. The latest entrant into this market of white label real time service layers is called has begun rolling out two Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that will allow publishers to offer sophisticated real time notification of events to their readers and interface designers to pull notices in as they become available online. These APIs are free to use but the company hopes they will help build up enough consumer demand to demonstrate scalability and get a foot in the door with business customers. The medical industry is the first business target but the company is also reaching out to financial, shipping, and software businesses.

Making websites real time is the hottest trend online this season. From Facebook to Google, Twitter, Digg and countless little innovative startups, it seems like everyone is either doing it or talking about it. (See our Introduction to the Real Time Web for background.) Might some sites choose to use an outside service that specializes in real time infrastructure, instead of building their own in-house? That's what is betting on. is a San Diego based startup made of tech industry veterans, some working on the company on the side, others full time. The company has taken no funding, has no revenue and no one working there is being paid. The executive team is made up of engineers from companies like, the Health Care division of SAIC, Napster, DekiWiki and Yahoo. It's a pretty hot crew to get together with no pay to take a long shot at productizing a technology like real time.

This isn't just another fly-by-night "instant alerts" service, though casual observers may have thought as much over the several months that the free consumer version of has been available. (We count ourselves among those casual observers, in fact!)

Using the free consumer service, anyone can set up alerts to be delivered by IM, SMS, email or to an Adobe AIR app whenever an RSS feed updates. That's nice and hopefully's service will work better than the alternatives do these days, but RSS to IM/SMS alerts are nothing new.

Where it gets really exciting is in the two APIs the company is working on.

What's New: The APIs

A REST API is available for publishers now and C# and Perl libraries should be available in two weeks. That API allows publishers to define particular events on their site and then offer real time alerts to readers when those events occur. You might want real time notification when someone leaves a comment in reply to yours, or when a site publishes news concerning a particular topic, or when a new event listing is published so you can buy tickets right away. The possibilities are endless and fun to imagine.

The second API in the works is an Actionscript and XMPP Client API that allows developers to build interfaces for audiences to consume real time alerts through. That API has specs in draft form now but the company says it expects little change to occur before a final release.

What does that mean? It means you could add real time notification consumption to apps on the web, desktop or iPhone (using the new Push Notification Service in the next iPhone OS release).

Put those two APIs together and you've got publishing and reading apps going in real time. Hello real time web!

Can They Sell Real Time to Businesses?

The team has immediate designs on business customers. Talks have begun with companies in the medical, financial and software fields. Doctors could use real time updates to track patient updates, including allergies and drug conflicts as they are discovered, prior to prescribing medication. Medical practices could push lab results to physicians instead of waiting on a chart pull request.


Would medical software companies use a hosted 3rd party API as real time infrastructure? says they have consulted with HIPAA experts who believe that as long as the company transmits notification of an event and not personal medical information, they should be legally compliant.

Figuring out rules for determining what kinds of information gets delivered will be one challenge that will have to tackle with customers. As Sameer Patel, another entrepreneur in this market, points out: "What's absolutely necessary in the B2B space though is smart aggregation before push comes into play. Failing this, its going to be a fire hose that will quickly alienate the end user."

Gnip is another service offering similar kinds of functionality, but for different markets. Gnip head Eric Marcoullier had this to say about's B2B prospects:

"Good for them. Further validation that slinging realtime data around has value. I bet they'll find good money there. We've even considered some of those use cases in the past, but have shied away because of the liability that's associated. The Gnip team works really hard to make sure that the platform is always running (with 99 point nine something uptime since launch) but if data gets held up for an hour, nobody's life depends on it. I'm psyched someone else is diving into the mission-critical data delivery while we work on business-critical data."

Indeed, reliable scalability will be's biggest challenge. That's something the company has focused on since the start. Proving their case and building a name for themselves as a popular consumer notification service is a business strategy that quite a few other Web 2.0 type startups have done well with.

Can that strategy work with real time notifications, though? We suspect that business customers may be more interested in integrating real time functionality than all but a few power user consumers will be, so if you like the consumer service of you'd better use it now, before the more viable business market takes precedence in the company's day to day decision making to the detriment of free accounts.

In the meantime, we expect that someone will succeed in bringing a real time service layer to the websites we use and work with every day. Real time is just too compelling for the paradigm to go back into the genie's bottle. It could be that finds that success.

BY Marshall Kirkpatrick

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